What is a calorie?
Demystifying calories and the energy balance equation
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. This is why calories are sometimes referred to as “energy”; because they provide energy in the form of heat so our bodies can function, and we store and “burn” them as fuel.
We tend to rate the healthiness of a food by how many calories it contains. The usual thought process is that if a food is lower in calories, it’s better for you.
In fact, not all foods are created equal. Different types of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) have different caloric values. (Alcohol, although not strictly a macronutrient, should also be considered here; it’s all too easy to forget about the calories we drink!).
Every gram of protein has 4kcal.
Every gram of carbohydrate has 4kcal.
Every gram of fat has 9kcal.
(and every ml of pure alcohol, not including other additions like sugar, has 7kcal).
Calories influence our energy balance (how many calories we burn vs. how many we eat and drink) and as such are crucial for weight management in terms of weight loss, gain and maintenance
What does kcal mean on a food label?
You may see calories expressed as kilocalories (kcal); in reality calories are actually displayed on food labels in units of 1000, with 1000 calories equalling 1 kilocalorie or 1 kcal. So when we talk about a calorie, we’re actually talking about 1000 calories!
Should I be counting the calories I consume?
Some people religiously count their calories and use devices such as fitness watches to track their calorie burn. In reality, unless you have very specific and challenging goals such as gaining muscle without gaining fat, the majority of people don’t need to worry about this.
If you want to lose weight, you should just be conscious of the types of food and drink you’re consuming and its nutrient values. For example, choosing an apple over a packet of crisps is likely to have fewer calories and also bring with it other important micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. It is also likely to make you feel full for longer as it won’t cause as much of a blood sugar spike and then a slump like other snacks might.
How many calories should I be eating?
This one depends on you. Do you want to lose fat, build muscle or stay as you are?
To build muscle, you need to eat more calories than you burn to give your muscles the energy they need to grow.
To lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.
To stay as you are, you should eat a similar number of calories as you burn.
A Nutritionist can help you to estimate your daily average calorie burn using information you give them about your daily lifestyle. Once you've got your estimated number of calories burned, you can then choose how many you want to eat to achieve your goals. If you don't like the idea of logging everything you eat and drink, you could split each meal into a calorie goal, and keep an eye on food labels to see if you're on track.
If you have 3 meals and 2 snacks in the day and you've agreed with your Nutritionist to eat 2000kcal per day, you could split it as follows:
Breakfast - 400kcal
Lunch - 500kcal
Dinner - 700kcal
Snacks - 400kcal
By simply paying a little attention when cooking your food, or by being conscious of what you’re eating, you can get quite close to this without having to track everything. Remembering the kcal values of each macronutrient will help too; fat has more than double the calories of carbs and protein.
How can I help you?
Working with Sophie at Active Nutrition will equip you with all of the information you need to help you lose weight healthily and in a sustainable way, including recipe ideas and hints and tips to help you achieve your goals.